Ellis County Commissioners face tough decisions in coming years on how to balance the county’s budget. There are three candidates for the one open seat on the commission, District 1, who think they can can find the best solution. Each one is asking voters to cast a ballot for them Nov. 6 in the general election.
District 1 covers the northwest area of the county, including the city of Ellis. The candidates are Butch Schlyer, Republican, John Walz, independent, and Chris Rorabaugh, Democrat.
The Hays Daily News asked each candidate to answer five questions about their views on issues of importance to the residents of Ellis County and the Ellis County Commission.
Below, candidate Butch Schlyer is the second in the series of three question-and-answer email replies running over the course of three issues of the paper. Rorabaugh’s answers were published Friday.
Tell us about your background, where you live, your family, where you’ve worked and what qualifies you as a good candidate for commissioner.
I am a lifelong resident of Ellis County as was my father, grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather, who settled in Hays as a young man in 1869. I am a 1969 graduate of Hays High and have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from FHSU and certification in funeral service from Central States University in Oklahoma. My working career started as a route driver providing delivery, sales and service of Budweiser products for Midwest Tobacco and Candy Co. in Hays. I worked in the funeral profession for 10 years at Brock’s North Hill Chapel also here in Hays and was appointed as the Ellis County Health Administrator in April of 1994, retiring from that position in December of 2016. My wife Mary and I have been married for 45 years and have one daughter and a little 5-year-old grandson I call Jimmy. In addition, my father also lives with us. He is 92 years old and a proud WWII veteran. Pastimes I enjoy are fishing and model ship building.
As Health Administrator I worked for Ellis County for about 23 years reporting to 16 different county commissioners, two county administrators, and compiled 23 health department budgets. This experience allows for a unique perspective as a commissioner candidate. I have a firm grasp on the roles and responsibilities of a county commissioner as well as a genuine understanding of the county department heads and the stresses affecting them as service providers. I have also developed a sound knowledge of county government, the diversity of the many departments and community agencies funded by the county, the differences between appointed versus elected county department heads, and the many state mandates affecting services and funding. I am already familiar with the budget process with its numerous line items, funds and revenue sources. Having met with county administration and department heads weekly for several years prior to my retirement, I have acquired respect for them and their professional judgment. Together, I am certain we can negotiate the difficult issues.
Will you allow a mill levy increase to resolve the serious budget shortfall Ellis County faces in years to come.
In August the county administrator compiled a spreadsheet projecting budget expenditures and revenue. The projections forecast a budget deficit of almost $10 million by 2024, a short five years away. If these estimates are correct and expenditures are not reduced the budget would require approximately a 17 mill levy increase which would increase the current Ellis County property tax by about 40 percent. I do not believe this would be acceptable to anyone paying taxes. In the short-term, budget line item expenses must be reduced and most likely taxes will tweak upward. However, the mill levy may not have to be increased. Should property valuations increase, so will the tax dollars generated by the current levy. In addition, oil and gas revenue as well as revenue generated by county departments will affect the amount of tax dollars necessary to balance the budget.
Will you cut services or employees to balance the budget, and if so, what areas would you cut and how would you make that determination?
The Board of County Commissioners will need to consider a long term strategy to reduce projected budget expenditures. It needs to be determined as to where the county wants to be in five, 10 or 15 years from now. If county operations continue as they are and the budget process remains the same, taxes will increase significantly to fund services. A long term approach to county operations may change a variety of expense variables including, but not limited to, personnel, hours of operations, services, standards, equipment, community agencies and others. I will challenge all of the stakeholders including the Board of Commissioners, department heads, community agency representatives, employees and taxpayers to embrace change and be innovative offering new ideas and better ways to provide county services in order to reduce expenses.
Will you support a countywide sales tax to help balance the budget, and if so how much?
I would be hesitant to support a countywide sales tax to support county government and balance the budget. However, I would never compromise a department budget if it would result in illness, injury or death. Essential services including law enforcement, rural fire, EMS, emergency management and public health need to have adequate funding to assure public safety and health. With that in mind, I would support a countywide sales tax to support adequate funding of these and only these county departments.
Ellis County Commissioners in September reduced their salaries 5 percent. Will you cut the salary, health insurance or retirement benefits of county commissioners to reduce county spending?
The County Board of Commissioners should lead by example. Every line item in the county commissioners budget should absolutely be considered for reduction to help reduce county spending. No commissioner should request department heads cut budget expenditures unless the board is also willing to lessen theirs by the same amount or more.
How can the county help keep young early-career residents in Ellis County?
Young people, whether they are high school graduates, technical school graduates, or college graduates are principally concerned with opportunity, the opportunity for a good job or career that provides for sound financial compensation. Ellis County must be favorable to economic development and encourage such growth with a thorough comprehensive plan. In addition, Ellis County needs to be supportive of growth and progress in its incorporated cities and facilitate such with allowable means and resources.